published Saturday, March 17th, 2012

Alabama governor slashes spending

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley ordered state agencies to cut spending 10.6 percent Friday, making it the third consecutive year state programs have suffered double-digit cuts.

State Personnel Director Jackie Graham said state department officials had already called her about getting training for instituting layoffs. She said agencies have few options for reducing spending because they've already gone through two years of budget cuts and the new order comes with half of this fiscal year already gone.

"When you cut and cut and cut, the only thing left is salaries," she said.

Officials said Friday it's too early to predict how many workers might be laid off.

Alabama's Constitution prohibits deficit spending and requires the governor to order across-the-board cuts when appropriations exceed revenues.

Bentley said several factors have put a dent in the $1.56 billion general fund budget, including the cost of recovery from killer tornadoes that hit the state and reduced earnings from state investments. That left about a $170 million shortfall.

"Just as families must reduce their spending when money is limited, government must also reduce its spending," Bentley said.

Bentley's order runs through the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30. The order does not affect the state education budget, which funds public schools and colleges.

State Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan notified his 300 employees Friday that their salaries could be reduced up to 7.5 percent because of the spending cuts. McMillan said he had cut the Agriculture Department's staff by 100 since taking office in January 2011.

and he couldn't lay off any more employees without hindering essential functions, including food safety inspections and blood tests that are required for Alabama's poultry industry.

He said he had already cut some essential functions, including eliminating all cattle theft investigators except for one part-time worker.

Graham said the Agriculture Department is the only department that has sought and received approval from the state Personnel Board to use pay cuts instead of layoffs.

A year ago, Bentley reduced the fiscal 2011 General Fund budget by 15 percent. And a year before that, then-Gov. Bob Riley trimmed the fiscal 2010 General Fund budget by 10 percent.

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